Convenience has been growing but some operators had to hold off on intended developments while finance was scarce. But now projects are taking off.
IT’S a conundrum that’s played out in just about every economic cycle.
When times are good and most operations are doing well money from traditional sources of finance (like banks) is available, though often not required. When the going gets tough and there’s a need for investment, and many an opportunity for wise operators who could pick up bargains, and do great deals on construction and other services, the money is usually much tighter.
Life has been like that, especially for small businesses, for several years. But now we may be reaching a very interesting stage in the recovery when the money starts to flow but the interest rates remain relatively low.
It suggests there should be a window of opportunity for all those keen retailers who’ve been itching to develop their stores or indeed develop new stores. And some of Scotland’s leading forces in shopfitting do indeed report that the market, which had been, to a large extent, ticking over in recent years, is now beginning to look quite a bit livelier.
Alex Dalglish, managing director at shopfitting specialist Vertex told Scottish Grocer that there was more interest and activity, from a variety of sources but especially from group retailers and from independents working in conjunction with symbol groups.
“We’ve certainly been busy in the last five or six months with Spar and Nisa and we’re working on a very nice Best-one store in Dundee, he said.
“We’ve been doing lots of Post Office work too that reflects the transitions programme going on there.”
And Vertex, which worked on the very impressive Maclennan’s Supermarket on Benbecula that was built from scratch last year, has also been involved in one of this year’s most innovative and significant independent developments the Pinkie Farm Store project in East Lothian that saw David Sands and his father Lindsay, who developed the David Sands chain of c-stores that was sold to The Co-operative, team up with former Bellevue Cash and Carry owner Graham Benson and former regional manger for the Best-one symbol group Colin Smith to launch the new shop.
But Dalglish thinks there is evidence both that there is more money available for a variety of projects, from banks and leasing companies, and that there is a pent-up demand from the sector.
Many operators realise it’s time to upgrade, he reckons. And many are very interested in achieving cost savings by investing in good refrigeration and lighting equipment.
His firm is currently working on a Nisa store in Lanarkshire which will include what he sees as a very innovative LED lighting scheme designed by specialist firm Microlights that, among other things, uses directional lighting very effectively to highlight important areas and displays.
As well as fuel efficiency he finds many clients, if they have the space and the funds, are very interested in food-to-go areas – with a number ready to investigate franchise deals with recognised food-to-go brands such as Subway.
And Vertex has been developing contacts with providers of Scottish system-compliant covers to meet the requirements of the tobacco display ban that comes in on 6 April next year.
Many existing shops will be able to do a deal with their tobacco suppliers, but some won’t and looking forward it isn’t clear whether tobacco companies will install covered gantries in the future.
At Cruden Contracts Darren Cruden said he had noticed a significant upturn in activity in the last 12 months. The firm is involved in projects across Scotland but he’s noticed that the north and north-east seems particularly busy, with many retailers keen to refit or to develop projects.
Many clients, if they have the space, are very interested in food-to-go areas – with a number ready to investigate franchise deals with recognised brands such as Subway.
There are some other constraints, however.
“I think it’s very difficult to get a green field site at the moment,” he said.
And there’s pressure on sites too from the expansion of the likes of Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local portfolios.
“I think they have acquisitions people who do more or less nothing but look for sites for them.
“We do hear some times from developers about a possible site but many of the best are likely never to be openly on the market.
“The keen independents will all be signed up with the property agents, of course.
“Chillers are certainly important, especially chillers with doors.
“We’re asked about LED lighting and we’ve looked at installing voltage optimisers.”
Cruden is accredited with the main symbol groups and he reckons most are now knowledgeable and direct and can give clear specifications, which helps designers and shopfitters.
Food to go and, in particular, hot food to go are areas that are important to clients, he said.
And there’s also interest in beer caves, the separate chilled rooms within a shop that, depending on space available, can effectively combine the roles of chilled drinks display and chilled drinks storage.
The company installed one recently at the Nisa Local in Elderslie in Renfrewshire.